Tag Archives: Assessment

Writing Assessment Tasks

12 Jun

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Using the right questions creates powerful, sometimes multiple answers and discussions. Aristotle said that he asked questions in response to other people’s views, while Socrates focused on disciplined questioning to get to the truth of the matters.

Ultimately questions spark imagination, conjure emotions, and create more questions. The questions asked by a teacher or professor are sometimes more glaringly valuable than the information transferred to the students. Those questions spark a thought, which leads to a fiercely independent search for information.

If students are the ones gathering that information then they’re the ones learning it and student-driven learning cements lessons into the students’ mind making any lesson more powerful with this strategy. As I teach and write the next assessment task this week I have been thinking about the following questions. Note they need to be linked to our New Zealand Curriculum.

  • How might you show the differences and similarities?
  • What patterns might lead you to an alternative answer?
  • How many possibilities can you think of and why?
  • How does this relate daily occurrences?

Faith Formation or Religious Education/Studies

2 Nov

tree

“How beautiful are the footsteps of those who bring good news” (Rom 10:15-17).

We teach in a time where Religious Studies is rigorously assessed by Achievement Standards recognised by NZQA. Religious Studies is an approved subject for University Entrance. Teachers of the subject are working on textbooks, resources and developing pedagogical ideas as in any other curriculum area.  Still we may ask ourselves what is the purpose of Religious Studies/Education in schools exactly? Is it religious education or is it faith formation?

At a secondary level in New Zealand the perception of this subject is highly topical. With its non-optional nature in Catholic schools, teachers there still face the continual justification of why we spent so much teaching time on Religious Studies/Education in the classroom.

I genuinely believe that teachers of Religious Studies/Education teachers in a Catholic school should be leading teaching practice, delivering the most engaging and relevant lessons to raise perception. My observations indicate Religious Education/Studies practitioners are as good as any in any curriculum area. This is despite the nationwide shortage of subject specific specialists and the fact professional development budgets will not allow for the support of preservice and ongoing training. Being a teacher of Religious Education/Studies does not make you immune from criticism from parents who want a good Catholic education, but are perhaps not so keen on the time spent on the subject, be it Religious Education/Studies or the more senior Religious Education/Studies.

Since robust assessment has become part of Religious Education/Studies in Catholic schools there has been a great deal of discussion on the question whether Religious Education/Studies is the academic study of religion or the formation of personal faith? Perhaps it can be both.

Our curriculum, ‘Understanding Faith’, provides a convergence of the study of religion and the development of faith which will hopefully produce young men and women who are able to think more critically, are religiously literate and able to be more mindful contributors to our Church and society going forward. We must be educating the whole child and it is vital they leave our schools with the qualifications that will set them up for fulfilled life.

At the centre of our schools is faith formation. There is no doubt that faith formation takes place in the Catholic school but where it should primarily take place in the classroom or beyond is up for discussion. Whether that this is the primary role of Religious Studies/Education is the issue I will explore here.

It is a concern to hear some students disengaged in Religious Education/Studies and as a result have become disconnected from their faith. If we cannot teach faith beyond what’s perceived to be relevant and engaging, we do have a real problem. If we cannot make our faith interesting and relevant, at a time where are Church has never been so relevant, what hope is there for the future of our Church?

Religious Education/Studies is an endeavour in sharing faith and it is an intentional activity to develop students who are religiously literate and conversant. There seems to be a close connection between classroom Religious Education/Studies and catechesis. As a classroom teacher who observes that the Religious Education/Studies program has the potential to develop faith in students and it is most effective when it is grounded in a sharing of faith between teacher and student.

There are limits to the ways in which Religious Education/Studies can develop the faith of students. The curriculums capacity to communicate and develop faith of students is much less if it does not relate to the other parts of a student’s life experience. “Understanding Faith” sets out to witness and to teach the Catholic message and to develop in all students’ religious values, attitudes, knowledge and skills. The program does not depend on the faith of the student but it may contribute to faith formation.

It is important to acknowledge that in the Religious Education/Studies classroom aims to understand and appreciate the tradition of the Catholic Church. Complementary to and equally important to this is the experience of liturgy, prayer, retreat and participation in other forms evangelisation.

The “Understand Faith” Curriculum document has an instructive prominence and it recognises that one cannot become personally attuned a religion without first learning something about it. Learning and journey must be part of the student’s experience. Our curriculum links the classroom with the faith community which respects each individual’s faith journey, and the realities of the classroom. As an educator I believe the Catholic school should provide a comprehensive education in faith which will help young people become well informed about the Catholic traditions and its position on current issues. The role of Religious Studies is somewhat different. It does complement this but it is fundamentally an academic study of Religion. The Catholic faith is just one of these. Religious Studies is the study of a Religion from the outside, that is, not always with an emphasis on faith development.

In the Catholic tradition the term Catechesis has been commonly used to mean “Catholic Religious Education/Studies.” Catechesis seems to involve both theological knowledge as well as communication of faith vision. Religious Education/Studies or Catechesis links religious knowledge with faith. Faith is a personal relationship with God. We are called by God. It is a covenant relationship. God dwells among his people and his people live in his presence.

Catechesis cannot instil faith but only awaken, nourish and develop what is already there. Faith is concerned with developing a relationship with God. As teachers we walk beside students in their faith journey both challenging and nurturing them. Religious Educators do not transmit “faith” but would transmit particular interpretations or understandings of faith. Faith is a gift of grace and a personal response to Gods call it cannot be taught. As teachers we cannot force faith on our students through, coercion, indoctrination or manipulation. All we can do is to invite students to build their faith through instruction through example and experience. We cannot choose faith for students but can only give them the freedom to examine, question and reflect, and claim their personal belief.

Faith needs to be linked to everyday life and should not be seen as something isolated to going to Mass nor activities in class. Faith formation in the Catholic school is not just in the classroom, it would be naive to claim so. There needs to be evangelisation taking place throughout the school, at the parish level. The school can only reinforce what is taking place in the home. The Catholic school is concerned with integration of faith and life. It should be evident then that you cannot teach faith any more than you can teach love for a spouse. It has to be a lived experience creating an atmosphere in which students can develop their own faith each in his or her individual way.

During adolescence a young person’s main struggle is to achieve a personal identity or a positive sense of self and this is connected to the development of faith. Complications with faith tend to be part of a broader search for meaning in their lives and that search for positive self-worth. Faith is a dynamic fluid process. The development of faith at a personal level requires a mature sense of self and this occurs at different stages for each person. Watershed moments in this journey may take place outside of the four walls of a classroom.

Religious Education/Studies could be thought of as sharing ones faith with another person. Faith dictates lifestyle. It is a life style that is filled with both emotional and intellectual content.  Some school special character events such as social justice events, retreats and liturgies seek to develop and give a student an opportunity to express personal faith while the classroom curriculum is more concerned with delivering information although this still fosters faith development. The aim of the Religious Education/Studies curriculum is to create in student’s religious literacy, personal autonomy and the ability to be critical. These are all required in order for an individual to develop a mature adult faith.

As educators we have a role to make students faith a living conscious and active thing. Faith is a gift, a personal encounter or a response to Gods call. For this reason Religious Education/Studies should be carried out in an atmosphere that complements this. For this to happen only in the classroom is not an ideal. The whole faith process is much larger than what we do or what we teach, it wrapped in the ministry of God’s love and in the free and personal response that people make to that love. We need to create an atmosphere of warmth and relational trust, an environment suitable for listening to Gods call. We need to allow our students the freedom to search, to question and to express one’s own point of view. Faith needs to be intrinsic to our everyday life. Faith formation takes place not only but primarily outside the classroom. Students grow by being part of a faith community and the activities that complement this.

Our curriculum aims to religiously educate students so that they may grow and understand faith. Its effectiveness can only be judged by whether the students can demonstrate religious literacy and a sense of what religion contributes to the human condition. By applying critical thinking to religious issues in the school environment students will develop a mature faith and greater potential to effect change. I believe that our children will have faith if we have faith and are faithful. If we strive to keep our sense of community and keep our identity as a Catholic community then our children will stay with us and grow with us in faith and love. It is the job of us all of to encourage the spread of the Good News not just those teachers in the classroom.

Positive Learning Environments: Part Two

23 Sep

constructivist

I suppose the key to these is the key competencies of our national curriculum and ensuring we are getting it right in the classroom.

  1. Focus a good deal of your teaching on “learning how to learn” skill development. Read up on how to teach study skills, learning to learn skills, research skills, inquiry skills. Make sure that your students grow both in terms of content they learn and the “learning to learn” skills they need to develop in order to learn well in the future.
  2. Make “asking questions” central to your teaching and to your learning environment and school culture.
  3. Give students more choices and options – in the classroom.
  4. Use inquiry strategies, research skill building activities, interactive learning and projects as critical parts of teaching. Incorporate more interest based projects into your curriculum.
  5. Where possible, make learning experiences more “authentic”. Ask “how does this relate?” How can you provide students with a concrete understanding of their future options? Can you take field trips to different places of business? Colleges and universities? Bring in speakers?
  6. Create more ways to integrate learning across the curriculum and consider ways to redesign the curriculum. When redesigning or renewing the curriculum, examine whether curriculum materials or programs have a significant component built around developing curiosity, motivation, relevance and interest.

There is little doubt there are lots of challenges here but it up to us as teachers to challenge ourselves to create authentic learning environments.

Five Points for Curriculum Reflection: Part Two

11 Aug

Curriculum

As I have mentioned in an earlier post curriculum development has been on my mind as I have been looking at developing eLearning tools for the Religious Education Curriculum here in New Zealand. Here some more points that I think are important.

  1. Alignment

Curriculum Developers can spend so much time developing curriculum documents that they forget to take time to analyse alignment and have conversations with multiple groups.  “Poorly aligned curriculum results in our underestimating the effect of instruction on learning.” (Anderson, 2002, p. 260).

  1. Clarity

It must be clear across the school what is being taught. In Toward a Coherent Curriculum: The 1985 ASCD Yearbook, Stellar wrote, “The curriculum in numerous schools lacks clarity and, more important, coherence.  Students move from teacher to teacher and subject to subject along a curriculum continuum that may or may not exhibit planned articulation”

(p. v).

  1. Curriculum Development Is Requires Open Conversation

If you are asked to review curriculum or develop curriculum, then you should be careful to avoid bias.  What is good for your own child may not be good for every child.  Politics are unavoidable when it comes to curriculum development, but educators can improve the curriculum development process by seeking multiple perspectives. However this being said robust conversation about content and pedagogy is essential in a dynamic PLN.

  1. Be a Leader and Lead

Just lead. If you are leading the group lead them. It is not a title.  “A good leader has the ability to instil within his people confidence in himself.  A great leader has the ability to instil within his people confidence in themselves” (Maxwell, 1995, p. 55). 

  1. Student at the Centre

Despite all our ideas, discussions and reading of theory students must be at the centre. As curriculum is built one must ask? How will the student benefit? Is this course for them or me?

Do you have any suggestions? Perhaps there is a Part 3.

References:

Anderson, L.W. (2002). Curricular Alignment: A Re-Examination. Theory into Practice, 41, 225-260.

Maxwell, J.C. (1995). Developing the leaders around you. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Maxwell, J.C. (2008). Leadership gold: Lessons I’ve learned from a lifetime of leading. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Steller, A.W. (1985). Forward. In Beane, J.A. (Ed.), Toward a coherent curriculum. The 1985 ASCD Yearbook. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.  

Planning My Lessons

9 Mar

Planning the level of challenge of your lessons can be a difficult task.  It is important that knowing your group and where they are will help this.  My pieces about the famous learning plan have illustrated this. What you plan to do needs to be related to prior learning – which is why formative and summative assessment, and what you do with it, is so important.  For a while I thought I’d planned challenging lessons for all.  But that was the problem.  I rarely differentiated on an individual level and predominantly set the same task for all.  Challenge should apply to the learning, not merely the task.  And the learning needs to challenge all students.  Now this is a real skill and one that I have been honing for a while. I often organise prior learning collaboratively which my students love.

“Planning can be done in many ways, but the most powerful is when teachers work together to develop plans, develop common understandings of what is worth teaching, collaborate on understanding their beliefs of challenge and progress, and work together to evaluate the impact of their planning on student outcomes.”

Hattie 2012

Using colleagues to bounce ideas off of can be an excellent way of designing lessons.  There have been numerous times when I actively seek out colleagues and run ideas past them.  I know many departments set time aside to collaboratively plan larger schemes of work, but having a critical buddy to work with on individual lessons can be a great resource.

I will pay particular attention to the level of it in my lessons.  It’s important that I pitch it right.  Too easy and there is no reward.  Feedback has less effect and becomes low value.  Too hard and it can provide a feeling that achieving this goal is unobtainable. The only way I will know if the levels are correct is if I go back and check prior attainment and know my group before planning my lesson.

So why pay more attention to challenge this year more than before?  Well because of the various factors that it links to.  Memory and feedback being two in particular.  If we are to get the glutamate and dopamine present whilst learning and thus commit what we are learning to memory, we need to ensure that what work we set is challenging (so there is potential for a reward – achieving the goal) and actually achievable (to release the reward – chemicals).  If work is too easy and not challenging, these chemicals aren’t released as highly and won’t be committed to the long term memory (the aim of learning).

Feedback

30 Aug

This week I am in the middle of marking an internal assessment. As teachers, we spend a great deal of our time marking and giving feedback to our students about their progress and how they can improve. I often wonder if the comments that I am making to students are being used for improvement or whether they just look at the grade and then shove their test/essay into their folder and never look at it again. I have been considering how I can make sure that the time we spend giving feedback is meaningful?

The following seem to be worthwhile:

  1. It is good to critically analyse the feedback that you are giving at the moment. Is it worthwhile? Is it being used by the students for improved achievement?
  2. Even if your students are not using learning logs it is vital that any feedback that students get from you is understood and synthesised. GIVE THEM TIME TO READ: When you hand work back to your students give them time to read your comments and ask questions about them. Then they should summarise the comment in their own words and formulate THREE goals for their next piece of learning.
  3. BEFORE the next test/assessment give the students time to look at their goals. Five minutes before the end of the test/assessment tell students to write in the margins where they think they have met their goals.
  4. When students hand work in for marking get them to indicate on a continuum how much effort they put in.
  5. Allow the students to work collaboratively. While drafting, my students have enjoyed this process of working together and creating a scaffold. They also enjoy the blended conferencing process.

Professional Reading

CD – Consultation – May08

Working Smarter, Not Harder

22 Feb

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This gem is often discussed in many management books but I wonder do we real follow it?  How often are we still in class marking papers or preparing lessons when really we should home. It is the nature of teachers to get the job done but to move from good to great, in the word of Collins (2001) it is important for school leaders to look after the mental state of their staff and themselves alike. Some of the points made below may get you through the day with a little more fuel in the tank.

The following is from a piece I read in 2012 that I wanted to share this week.

Never Work Harder Than Your Students & Other Principles of Great Teaching Jackson, Robyn R. (2009) Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Principle 1: Start where your students are

Principle 2: Know where your students are going

Principle 3: Expect your students to get there

Principle 4: Support your students

Principle 5: Use effective feedback

Principle 6: Focus on quality not quantity

Principle 7: Never Work Harder Than Your Students

(Chapter 7 – pp. 170-191) – This chapter is well worth reading in full.

We need to be clear about what is our work and what is the students’ work, and make sure that we do our work and they do theirs. See this web link for a list which divides the classroom work.

Our responsibility is to teach and support. Their responsibility is to learn. We must not solve problems for them but help them acquire the tools they need to solve the problems on their own.

Set up systems so that students are able to do more on their own. E.g. If we want students to keep organised notes, then we need to set up a routine for note-making and the way to organise them.

Students must be held accountable for doing their work by having logical consequences.

Perhaps you could work with students to establish clear classroom routines for the following:

  • Homework – how it will be collected, how students find out what it is,
  • Late Work – how students hand it in and what the consequences will be,
  • Absences – how students will find out what work they missed, when and how they will need to hand it in,
  • Assessment Grades – how students will track their performance,
  • Beginning of Class – how will class begin, where should students be, what counts as late,
  • End of Class – how will students be dismissed, how should students leave the classroom,
  • Attendance – how you will track, what consequences will be in place for lateness/ unexcused absences,
  • Note-making – what format should be used, how the notes will be stored and used ,
  • Tests – how the classroom will be arranged, what kind of student interaction is appropriate, how to ask questions, how to hand in the tests,
  • Discussions – how will students participate, what type of participation is appropriate, who will facilitate, how will discussions be facilitated and
  • Transitions – how will assignments be passed back, how will students move from one activity to the next.

How do you balance your use of rewards and sanctions, and are the rewards you’re using really having a positive effect on student behaviour? Dave Stott provides some practical tips. In the link below.
Rewards: What really works?

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